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I recently counseled a man addicted to sin. He was living a self-centered, self-serving lifestyle that kept Christ from ruling his heart (Colossians 3:16). It was not that long ago when he professed Christ. Then he made a sinful choice to love his sin, which became a controlling preference that now dominates him (Romans 1:2; Galatians 6:1). Of course, there are a few people who know him who have said that he was never saved: “He made a profession, but did not have the possession of Christ.”
A person can indeed acknowledge the facts about Christ while not possessing the transforming power of the gospel (Romans 12:1-2). This problem has been called intellectual assent—a person giving consent to the truth claims of the gospel but not experiencing regeneration by them (John 3:1-7). I suppose that many people are Christianized but not truly transformed (Matthew 7:21). What if we spent some time wrestling through this subjective truth about some of our friends who love their sin more than Christ? Perhaps starting with a few questions would help.
In the book of Hebrews, what does the call to hold fast to your salvation mean if the interpretation is not for us to hold on to our faith? No doubt, God perseveres for you (primary cause), but aren’t you supposed to cooperate with Him (secondary cause) by persisting in your sanctification? The Hebrew writer observed his brothers and sisters turning and walking away from their faith, and he did not mince words but gave stern warnings to those who did not want to follow the Savior anymore.
The writer was willing and able to live in the theological tension of “for by grace you are saved” (Ephesians 2:8-9) and “you must hold fast to your confession of faith” (Hebrews 10:23). Here are some of the most explicit passages in Hebrews that speak to our call for active obedience. Read and reflect upon these passages. Think through primary and secondary causes. Do you see God’s perseverance and our responsibility to hold on? How do you reconcile those two seemingly, antagonistic ideas?
But Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope (Hebrews 3:6).
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession (Hebrews 4:14).
So that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (Hebrews 6:18).
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
There seems to be no question the Hebrew writer is talking to genuine Christians. His language in Hebrews 10:26-39 points to the prior redemptive work of God on behalf of his audience (Philippians 1:6). Not only does the writer lump himself in the group of people who could walk away from the faith, but he uses salvific and robust language to talk about God’s past regenerative work in their lives (Romans 8:29-30). He is not leaning into vague or arbitrary “profession language.” His words communicate possession language. Check out these verses.
The author of Hebrews is doing what he wants them to do for each other—bring stern warnings regarding the danger of choosing sin while walking away from Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25). The kind of writing he is using is the kind of communication I would use for myself or any other born again (John 3:7) follower of Christ. How different is his language from what you might use if you talked to a friend who was considering walking away from the faith or living in objective sin?
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:26).
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).
But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:38-39).
This situation, however, creates tension as we ask, “Can we be eternally secure and in danger of walking away from our faith?” We all know how Christians experience salvation by grace through faith in the works of Jesus Christ. To have justification (Romans 8:29-30), we exercise faith, not works, as seen in many passages throughout the New Testament, e.g., Romans 1:17; Ephesians 1:3-14, 2:8-9; Titus 3:5. Salvation is not loseable. We all know this.
But the writer of Hebrews is bringing a strong warning to those God sanctified, enlightened, and gave the knowledge of the truth, and he includes himself in the number of those who need to be warned (Hebrews 10:26). He does not say God condemns us, as though we would go to hell for walking away from God, but he is clear: The Lord is not pleased when we mock His gospel. He is not happy about people who continue in willful sin.
God disciplines His children harshly when they continue in willful defiance. And He does so in one of two ways. Either He takes their lives, or He judicially sentences them to live out their lives experiencing the consequences of their sin. – Chuck Swindoll
The writer is making a strong appeal, hoping they will know how this stubborn refusal to walk away from sin will cause God’s anger to come down on them. Walking away from God tramples the Son of God underfoot. It is an insult to the Spirit of grace who enlightened you to see the Son in the first place. It would be a travesty, insult, and mockery to show no gratitude, humility, or obedient response to the one who gave His life to save us. How can you say there is more life in your sin than Christ alone? This concept is why I appealed to my counselee, who was more in love with his sin than his Savior.
There is no place in the Bible where it means there is grace for the consequences of sin. There will be severe consequences for a defiant believer. Insulting the Spirit of grace, who is trying to draw you back, but you do not care and refuse to walk away from your sin, is to trample underfoot the grace of God that can save you from the consequences of your stubbornness. My friend was in a dangerous place. He came to counseling buzzed, flippant, snarky, sarcastic, and comical about the counseling. His wife was crying, and my soul was sad for them.
I am not ready to say that he was unsaved. I did not feel that God or His gospel needed theological protection by me causally categorizing him as having made a profession but did not indeed possess Jesus. This kind of thinking could be a gospel travesty. Maybe there are more than two Christian types: those who authentically believe in Jesus and never walk away, or those who say they believe in Jesus and can walk away. Christianity is not that neat, and sin has never been that respectful.
The Hebrew writer is saying there is a third Christian type—a believer who, for whatever reasons, spurns the grace he once received. The writer did not want to dilute the gospel by protecting it from the possibility of this kind of abuse. To not embrace this third type of Christian is to presume against God’s grace (Psalm 19:13). You and I experience temptation every day. We are under pressure while suffering the ebb and flow of victory and defeat throughout our lives. It may keep our Christianity and our theology in tight and neat packages, but it can be a massive disservice to the body of Christ.
No one is exempt from the cursedness of life, whether the curse comes from our hearts or the world we live in—even the believer’s heart. At the time of the writing of the book of Hebrews, the believers were under persecution. They believed in Christ by faith and maybe even enjoyed a refreshing time through Christ and their community. In time, the cares and troubles of life began to mount, and some of them decided to walk away from Christ. It would have been easy, but it would not have served them. The Hebrew writer was not going to categorize them willy-nilly as false converts.
Can you see how dangerous it is not to warn a person of the consequences of walking away from God? The ones who walked away would not have received the warning of the impending danger of spurning their faith. Those still persevering needed to know the risks of this kind of thinking and living. To wipe your hands of them does not help them or those who may yet choose sin over Christ.
The Hebrew writer would not check the theological box of “God never saved them in the first place” and move on to the next thing. His heart was broken, which is why his language was so severe. He gave you and me a threefold call to action regarding your friends. His first point was to consider those in your immediate community of faith. You see this in the passage—Hebrews 10:19-39: Consider, confront, and comfort.
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).
There is no question these Hebrew believers felt considered by the writer of this book. He could not have been more clear. He understood them, their history, their lifestyles, and their temptations. He did not hold back from giving them careful consideration while laying out a clear plan to keep persevering in the faith God had granted them. It would be a joy to be in the Hebrew writer’s small group! One of the big disappointments in today’s church is how brothers and sisters will not give up the time needed to consider how to stir up each other to love and do good deeds.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).
There is no place for harshness within the Christian community. If you want to know how to warn without being mean-spirited about it, carefully read this passage. You feel the writer’s affection for the people. He says some of the sternest and most direct things you can speak to a person, but you do not feel talked down to or verbally assaulted. He loved those people enough to warn them about the possibilities of their actions. He was like a father to them. Any good father would warn a son or daughter about the dangers in our world and the consequences of choosing those risks (Luke 11:11).
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated (Hebrews 10:32-33).
The Hebrew writer was not like a hit-and-run driver. He was with them, willing to stick it out for their good and God’s glory. He confronted and comforted. He reminded them of the efficacious grace of God that was evident in their lives. He wanted them to know how God will be with them in the future by reminding them how He was with them in the past. He identified evidence of God’s gracious activity in their lives.
A Christian can turn his nose to God and walk away from the faith. That does not mean he has a broken relationship with God, though he may sever his fellowship (1 John 1:7-10) with God and others. It also means there will be consequences for taking God’s grace for granted (Galatians 6:7-10). May we all be warned. May we all respond by graciously seeking to change ourselves while carefully considering others within our faith communities.
If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (Hebrews 12:8).
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).